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  • Writer's pictureAlex Bickers

Bass - is it ok to use a plectrum?

If you've had Bass lessons or you know anything about bass playing, it would be strikingly obvious that the vast majority of players pluck the strings using their fingers. Of course this would be accepted as the defacto way of playing. However there are many players who use a pick, like on a guitar. Including countless sucessful and famous bass players. Paul McCartney, Sting, Justin Chancellor included.

There are some who might look down on pick players, believing them to be using an inferior technique. This is a bad misconception that is not true. Playing fingerstyle may have more advantages, but pick playing certainly has it's own unique advanges too.

The main one being the percussive sound you get from using a pick that is impossible to replicate with fingers. Striking the string gives more of a high end click that can be used for intense tight playing, which is why a lot of rock, metal and punk bassists play this way. Down picking with consistent rhythms whilst palm muting with the right hand can create a really cool heavy sound. David Ellefson of Megadeth, a personal favourite of mine, uses this technique extensively to great effect and it compliments Megadeths razor sharp riffs to a T. Listen to the isolated bass track for "Tornado of Souls" for reference.

Another use would be for playing fast complicated licks that can be rather difficult using fingers. Alternate picking (up and down), down picking and economy picking are a great way to quickly navigate scale runs and fills. You can also angle the pick to get slightly different tones.

There are some genres (funk for example) where a pick would not be recomended as it doesn't create the right tone and you can loose control of the string to a certain extent. As with fingers, one finger can pluck a note and the other can quickly mute it to create short pumpy notes that would be difficult to replicate with a pick.

As a preference I spend 99% of my time playing with fingers, as in part it works for the music I play, and I just prefer the deeper punchier tones you get from it.

However as a bass teacher in hove I will always respect the chosen technique of all of my students. Most will use fingers but I always encourage them to try using a pick and explore the sounds and feel you can get from it, and use real world examples where using a pick gives an advange. The same will be true of my students who prefer to use a pick. I nurture them just the same and get them to use that technique as best they can for every genre of music I teach. Although I will always encourage them to try using their fingers from time to time to open up that world of posibilities. It is always good for a professional bass player to be able to do both and have them on standby as you don't know what certain gigs will require you to do.

So there is no right or wrong answer and there is no need for a pick vs. fingers mentality. Just like slap, all bass players should make use of every style in order to become diverse and skilled musicians.

lessonswithalex - guitar and bass lessons in hove

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